From a technical perspective, Ami Horowitz hit it out of the ballpark with his documentary, “U.N. Me.” It is an even more impressive accomplishment when you consider that Horowitz was a Wall Street investment banker for 13 years and “U.N. Me” is his first film.
Even screened on a laptop, the film is vibrant, and both interiors and exteriors are visually arresting. Both the director of photography as well as the cinematographer are established award winners, and it shows.
On top of that, Horowitz is strikingly intelligent and witty–kind of what one might imagine Jerry Seinfeld would be like if he were a documentary filmmaker. You laugh throughout the film, all the while recognizing the sad, pitiful truth in his observations. The press materials rightly describe him as a “conservative Michael Moore.” I would argue that he is less overtly aggressive in his rhetoric than Moore but just as smart, his observations as trenchant and just as much fun to watch.
That being said, on another level, the film leaves something to be desired. Because it is a documentary, the director’s point of view becomes clear very early on. Further, this is a political documentary as opposed to, say, a human interest one. By its very nature, it demands that the filmmaker make a clear and thorough argument and that the viewer agree or disagree. The fatal flaw with Horowitz’ film is that he doesn’t go far enough.
We get it. The United Nations is corrupt, inefficient and hypocritical. However, so is every university, military organization and government on the planet. So are many of the investment banks on Wall Street, like the unnamed one for which Horowitz worked. Nor do any of his subjects provide enough information for the viewer to determine if and/or how far the United Nations’ failures are outweighed by its accomplishments. It’s like being asked to choose sides when only a sphere is offered.
Also, no potential solutions are offered. In his interview with Jody Williams, Horowitz had the perfect opportunity. Williams is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and was head of the U.N. mission to Darfur. The film shows how Williams’ report to the United Nations–with its emphasis on the thousands of Sudanese girls who were raped–was almost unanimously rejected out of hand by most members of the United Nations.
Williams would have been a prime candidate to look into the camera and say, “This is what needs to be done to make the United Nations better” or even “The United Nations should be disbanded.”
But she doesn’t. Neither does Horowitz, nor anyone else in the film.
Perhaps that is because despite all its flaws, the United Nations remains responsive to the issues the world confronts. The creation of the International Criminal Court is a testament to that. The United Nations remains a symbol of what the world wants to be and is an indication of the willingness of the human spirit to try to attain that goal, its weak flesh notwithstanding.
The film ends up highlighting how similar the United Nations is to nations like the United States, from which many of its ideals are derived–that is, an all-too-often clumsy and corrupted execution of ideals of democracy, equality, prosperity and freedom. Still, the United States remains a beacon of hope for many people in the world. So hopefully, like the United States, the United Nations will continue to strive to meet its ideals, even if it must do so in a halting, sometimes awkward, sometimes puzzling manner.
Hopefully Horowitz and his ilk want a United Nations that continues to work on itself and are not hoping for no United Nations at all.
“U.N. Me” opens in theaters and is available on-demand (via iTunes, Time Warner, Comcast and Cox) on June 1.